Helping to Build Your Child's Self Esteem
As self images are learned self esteem can be changed.
Research evidence indicates that by the age of 8 self esteem is fairly well defined and may be harder to change. This highlights the importance of nurturing children's self esteem during their early years.
Self esteem develops from children's experiences and how others react to them. If children have successful experiences and they get messages from others that say "you are great" then their self esteem increases. If they experience failure and negative reactions from others, their self esteem decreases.
Self esteem is not determined by one positive or one negative experience, but rather from a combination of all children's experiences. Life is not always full of positive experiences for anyone - but we need to make sure that children experience more positive reactions than negative reactions from others.
There are numerous ways in which children's self esteem can be fostered, but generally this involves providing positive experiences with people and life and providing opportunities for children to experience success.
Children develop high self esteem when they feel a sense of security, identity, belonging, purpose and personal competence.
- Children need to know the limits or boundaries within which they are living as this helps them to feel safe.
- Let your child know what kind of behaviour you expect - set out rules and consequences.
- Enforce rules consistently in ways that build your child's sense of responsibility (use natural consequences, routines, "I like" messages). This will also help to build trust as your child is learning that you will do what you say you are going to do.
- Avoid labelling the child (e.g, naughty, rude), label the behaviour instead. You need to separate the child from the behaviour so that they need to know they are lovable even though not all of their behaviour is acceptable.
- Do not talk about your child's behaviour in front of them.
- Developing a sense of who they are.
- Treat your child as an important person, and love and accept them for who they are. Don't define children by what they have achieved, not achieved or by their behaviour (as mentioned above). Talk about them, when they were born, what they looked like, how they have changed and grown. Make a poster about them or record things in a book for them to keep and add to.
- Accept their feelings and give permission for their feelings. You may need to help them learn other ways, or more appropriate ways to express their feelings.
- Spend quality time together, talking, playing. Not only is this enjoyable for both of you but it will increase your child's awareness of his or her strengths.
- Promote positive self talk - encourage your child to make positive statements about themselves and what they are doing. Reframe negative statements and putdowns.
- Teach children to accept and respect differences between people - it is OK to be different, to like different foods, listen to different music, wear different clothes etc.
- To feel valued children need to feel that they belong. This can be difficult in busy lives where lots of different people are involved in the care of children.
- Teach your child how to be a group member - may be a part of many different groups (e.g. family, kindy, playgroup, friendship group, other community groups). At home involve them in decisions about the weekly dinner menu, activities to do together that day, where to have lunch (home or park). Let them know that they have something important to contribute.
- Encourage your child to help others - family members, friends.
- Provide opportunities for friends to come and play. This is good for social skill development (e.g., sharing, waiting, listening, being listened to).
- Children need to know that what they are doing has meaning and is important. Play is a wonderful way in which young children learn about themselves and their world.
- Have realistic expectations for your child - don't expect them to do things they are not capable of and don't do things for them that they are able to do.
- Never discourage children by saying something is too hard for them. Let them try and help them if necessary. This demonstrates your faith and confidence in your child
- Encourage play and exploration and experimentation. This will expand your child's interests and skills.
- Consider reward systems to initially motivate your child
- Children feel good about themselves when they can do things and have a sense of control and mastery over things that they do.
- Structure tasks so that your child experiences success rather than failure. You may need to make things simpler for them to start with.
- Help your child develop a plan of action for the goals that have been set - decide how to start, where and when to do the task, whether someone will help them or not.
- Provide encouragement and support in a positive way.
- If you need to correct a mistake focus on the positive first then make the correction.
- Give your child feedback regarding the progress they make.
- Praise effort rather than achievement - e.g. "you really worked hard on that puzzle".
- Recognise improvements the child has made and only make comparisons to their previous achievements, not to other children's achievements.
- Praise the act rather than the child (e.g., "Thank you for packing up", rather than "Good boy"). In this way you are fostering the development of internal satisfaction. That is, the child feeling good about what they have done, rather than doing things just to please adults or to get approval from adults.
When thinking about fostering the development of children's self esteem we need to look at what kind of messages they are getting from all the significant people in their lives. Parents have the earliest role in this and continue to be a strong influence. As children get older teachers and other children also have a role to play. It is not just up to parents or just up to teachers - but up to all those who have a role in each child's life. It can be hard to influence how other children or adult visitors will respond to your child - all you can do is lead by example.
As role models it is important for parents to look after their own self esteem too and let the child see that you feel good about your self. Take time out for yourself regularly, do something you enjoy.
Jenni Pearce, Psychologist (2009)
Child & Educational Psychology
6 Edward Street, NORWOOD 5067 South Australia, Australia.
Telephone: 0407 726 332
Fax: (08) 8362 0332